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Using "war on drugs" as justification
U.S. fuels dirty war in Colombia

by ALAN MAASS | June 8, 2001 | Page 13

IN MAY, the Bush administration unveiled its proposed contribution to the death and destruction in Colombia.

White House officials pointed out that the Bush gang's "Andes Regional Initiative" proposed less military aid than previous packages. Still, wrote the Chicago Tribune in an editorial, "Look at the figures and the fine print a little closer...and you will find less of a change than meets the eye."

For one thing, as State Department official William Brownfield admitted to reporters, the U.S. financed most of its "big ticket" military items for Colombia with Bill Clinton's whopping $1.3 billion aid plan, passed last year.

That money is flowing into Colombia now--and fueling the government's four-decades-old war against left-wing rebels.

Colombians are dying from war-related violence at a rate of about 30,000 a year. At the heart of the war is Plan Colombia--the U.S. government's program for winning the "war on drugs" by wiping out production and trafficking in the country that produces 90 percent of the world's cocaine. U.S. officials claim that the rebels work with traffickers to run the drug trade--and are therefore the main targets of Plan Colombia.

But as Klaus Nydholm, a representative of the United Nations Drug Control Program stationed in Colombia, said last month, Colombia's right-wing paramilitary thugs are "even more" involved in trafficking than the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the country's main rebel group. "We do not consider the FARC drug traffickers," Nydholm said. "We believe that it is still a matter of a guerrilla organization with political objectives."

The mainstream media dismiss violence in Colombia as the work of extremists--guerrillas on the left and paramilitaries on the right. But the paramilitaries account for most of the violence. And they work closely with Colombia's military--which has one of the worst human rights records in the world.

"The paramilitary phenomenon," one human rights expert said, "is the spearhead of Plan Colombia: to create territorial control and to control the civilian population. This is a terror tactic."

Barely a week goes by without another report of a horrific slaughter carried out by the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), the 8,000-member paramilitary army. In one typical example, AUC soldiers descended on a village in the Alta Naya region of southwestern Colombia in mid-April. Using machetes, guns and chainsaws, the death squads killed at least 40 people over a period of two days--and forced thousands of others to flee their homes in terror.

The paramilitaries don't limit their operations to rural areas where rebel groups are based. Unionists are high on their hit list.

More than one-third of all unionists assassinated anywhere in the world over the past decade were Colombians. Central Unitaria de Trabajadores, the country's largest labor federation, has buried 23,000 assassinated activists since it was founded in 1986.

Recently, Colombia's universities have become targets for the death squads. In the last two years, at least 27 professors, students and administrators have been killed, usually gunned down near their homes. "There are students here who never take a test, never write down a thing," one student told the Washington Post. "They are only here to identify student leaders, who the teachers are who might be from the left. I can't walk up to a student and say, 'This policy is wrong, let's do something about it.' I don't know who I'm talking to."

This is the true face of the war that the U.S. government has plunged into.

The U.S. has some 300 advisers in Colombia--with the U.S. Army 7th Special Forces Group stationed at the Larandia Army Base in the south of the country to train Colombia's new "antidrug" battalions.

Next month, Colombia will start receiving high-tech Black Hawk helicopters--the biggest ticket item of all in last year's Clinton aid package. U.S. advisers tell reporters that this will be a turning point--that the Black Hawks will allow Colombia's military to dramatically step up operations.

Meanwhile, the government has increased flights to spray chemicals in rural areas where coca plants are raised. The weapon of choice in Plan Colombia's "air war" is Roundup--a chemical manufactured by Monsanto that destroys everything it touches, wiping out legal crops alongside illegal ones. As George Monbiot, columnist for Britain's Guardian newspaper, put it, Roundup "is the Agent Orange of America's new Vietnam."

All this is justified as part of the "war on drugs." As the late Sen. Paul Coverdell (R-Ga.) declared--in terms taken from the "domino theory" that justified the Cold War with the ex-USSR, only with cocaine taking the place of communism: "Colombia is the heart of the drug war, and we'd better get on with it. If we lose Colombia, then we lose everywhere."

But there's a more important--and more familiar--economic interest in Colombia: oil.

Colombia has emerged in the last two decades as one of the hemisphere's largest producers of oil--becoming the seventh-largest supplier of petroleum to the U.S. And Colombia borders Venezuela--the U.S.'s main supplier of oil.

During the past decade, Colombia's rebel groups have steadily begun to target the oil industry to put pressure on the government. So it was little surprise when oil giant Occidental Petroleum--which operates mainly in northeastern Colombia, far from the coca-producing south--played a key role in lobbying for Clinton's military aid deal.

The U.S. government's real interest in Colombia is "stability"--no matter what the cost in human lives.

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